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The Tempest: last few days

Nicola Mostyn gets swept away by the Exchange’s latest production, we want you to go.

Published on June 25th 2007.

The Tempest: last few days

Fair enough, this has been on for ages, but at Confidential we like to give praise where praise is due. And before this production finishes at the Royal Exchange we want you to go along.

Casting Pete Postlethwaite in the role of the magical Duke Prospero was always going to be a winning move on the part of the Royal Exchange. The real test is whether the production can live up to the lure of its lead performer.

The Tempest is believed to be Shakespeare’s final play and is a work of magic, love and political machinations. Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan who has been usurped by his brother, Antonio, and cast away on an island with his daughter, Miranda. There he finds a spirit, Ariel and the son of a witch, Caliban, both of whom he puts into his service.

When we meet the play, it is twelve years later and having learned that a passing ship is carrying his treacherous brother, the King of Naples and several other noblemen, Prospero has conjured up a storm to wash them ashore. But before everyone can be brought together and wrongs can be righted several plot strands must wind their way to their conclusion. Can the King’s son, Ferdinand, prove to the Duke that his instant love for Miranda is true? Will the King’s brother succeed in his plot to kill Alonso and steal the throne? Will the two marooned sailors stay sober enough to succeed in their plan to takeover the island?

There is an awful lot going on in this play so it is to this production’s credit that it amuses, engages and entertains at a rapid pace whilst never becoming confused.

Samantha Robinson and Oliver Kieran-Jones are great as the smitten lovers Miranda and Ferdinand, playing them with a devotion which is sweet but not too saccharine. Steven Robertson is particularly memorable as lithe translucent spirit Ariel. Enlisted by Prospero to foil the plot to kill the king, Robertson’s Ariel goes into full flight, prancing about the place and speaking with a Scottish lilt which would have added nicely to the mystical feel had it not reminded me so utterly of Little Britain’s riddling hotel owner. Nonetheless, Ariel manages to be both ethereal and menacing in equal measure, making a neat visual counterpoint to Caliban’s troll-like physicality, which is displayed to hilarious effect in the scenes where he meets the sailors, discovers the joys of alcohol and promptly adopts them as his new masters.

And then there’s the man who everyone has come to see: Glimpsed in the opening scenes in a dressing gown and clutching a gnarled tree branch as his magic ‘wand’, Postlethwaite’s Duke is a complex character; dignified, primal, kindly, cruel, his stripped-down appearance suggesting his capability for both humanity and brutality. The former is displayed by his tenderness towards his daughter, the latter seen in his merciless actions towards Caliban who he has, after all, usurped in the same way he himself was usurped.

Visually, this play is very impressive; especially effective was the contrast of the suited, gun toting, blackberry holding security guards with the world of the island, whose inhabitants are seen dressed in nightwear suggesting a world not quite awake to reality. And a cinematic feel is amplified by a superb soundscape, providing the swish of the waves, snatches of eerie songs and a stand out sequence in which past actors from the exchange quote Shakespeare’s lines about love.

All of these aspects blend and flow with great fluidity, bringing the play vividly to life. Ultimately, the Exchange have pulled off a neat trick: anyone visiting the theatre to see a great actor will leave knowing they’ve seen a brilliant production of a wonderful play. The Tempest is showing at the Royal Exchange until July 7. Tickets start at £4.

The Tempest
Royal Exchange
St Ann’s Square
0161 833 9833

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